Some time ago I was visiting with a mother who had a 16-year-old daughter steeped in an emotionally intimate relationship. The little girl was plainly smitten with her older boyfriend, and would tell anybody who would believe her that she was “in love.”
I asked the mom why she permitted this type of a relationship when the prophets have plainly counseled our youth not to go steady while still in high school, and not to fall in love until they are in a position to marry.
Her response astonished me. “I can’t be a hypocrite now, can I?” “Why would you be a hypocrite?” I asked incredulous. “Well, I had a boyfriend when I was in high school; I can hardly ask her to do something I didn’t do.”
Apparently this mother lacked understanding of what it means to be a hypocrite. A hypocrite says, “Do as I say, not as I do.” It is a teacher that says, “Do as I say, not as I did.”
“Do as I Say, Not as I Did”
If we think that we lose our credibility as parents simply because we have made mistakes, then no parent will have credibility with their children. None of us becomes a parent with a perfect record in life. Of course we have made mistakes. Does that mean our stewardship over our children is revoked? Does that mean we can’t teach our children not to curse if we used to curse? Are we prohibited from encouraging our children to attend church because we endured a period of inactivity? Should we refrain from challenging our own children to attend college if we did not take advantage of the opportunity to attend college?
Parents who let their past transgressions interfere with their present teaching must forgive themselves for their past. If they believe they have no credibility because of their own mistakes, they are still carrying around guilt that needed to be shed long ago.
I am extremely fond of Jeffrey R. Holland’s message in his talk, “Remember Lot’s Wife.” “…when honest effort is being made to progress, we are guilty of the greater sin if we keep remembering and recalling and rehashing someone with their earlier mistakes-and that “someone” might be ourselves. We can be so hard on ourselves, often much more so than with others!”
We must forgive ourselves when we have repented. Then the guilt won’t follow us around the rest of our lives and interfere with our efforts to teach our own children. We want our children to be learn from our mistakes, not repeat them! How can we ever make progress as a people if the rising generation keeps repeating the mistakes of the past because adults lack the courage to teach them a better way?
Part of our repentance process is to teach others so they can avoid our mistakes. We see this pattern throughout the scriptures, with Enos, Alma The Younger, Zeezrom, etc. The truly repentant delight in sharing the good news of the gospel. Doing so with our own children can clear our own conscience provide evidence of our repentance.
Even parents who were obedient as youth may counsel their children not to do as they did. Parents who give different counsel to their children than that they followed themselves may do so because times have changed. They may have been following counsel that was appropriate for their generation, counsel that differs for this generation. For example, half of the quorum of the 12 didn’t serve missions. That doesn’t mean these brethren are in no position encourage today’s young men to serve missions. They did what was appropriate in their day, and today’s young men should do what is appropriate today.
“I Turned Out Okay”
As frequently as I have heard Moms and Dads excuse their failure to parent with the line, “I don’t want to be a hypocrite,” I have heard parents excuse their failure to teach the Church’s standards with the line, “I had a boyfriend/girlfriend in high school and I turned out okay.”
Mom and Dad may have turned out okay because the rules of dating were different 40 years ago. The counsel of the prophets regarding teenage romance has changed since today’s parents were in high school. Wise parents will follow prophetic counsel for our day, not assuming counsel that was appropriate for them is also appropriate for their children.
In 1976 President Kimball said, “Any dating or pairing off in social contacts should be postponed until at least the age of 16 or older, and even then there should be much judgement used in selections and in the seriousness.”
Twenty years later prophets counseled 16-year-olds to avoid steady dating all together. President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “When you are young, do not get involved in steady dating. When you reach an age where you think of marriage, then is the time to become so involved. But you boys who are in high school don’t need this, and neither do the girls. (October Conference 1997)
Prophets are, by definition, called to teach for our day. That’s why we have modern day prophets. They are inspired to give is counsel that applies to challenges we have right now.
President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “So often the prophets have been rejected because they first rejected the wrong ways of their own society.” (Conference Report, Apr. 1978, pp. 115-16) Clearly this is the case in our society. The world sanctions steady dating among adolescents. The books and movies geared toward adolescents consistently depict high school students in exclusive, romantic relationships.
It takes faith in a prophet to follow his counsel, particularly when it is drastically at odds with secular society. Elder Henry B. Eyring warned that those with little faith may take a prophet’s counsel only when it seems reasonable. “If it does not [seem reasonable] they consider it either faulty advice or they see their circumstances as justifying their being an exception to the counsel.” (April Conference 1997)
If one end of the parenting spectrum is represented by parents who lack the confidence to parent because of their own checkered past, the other end of the spectrum could be represented by parents who are so confident in their own parenting that they ignore prophetic counsel.
“Turn Out Okay”
When parents offer the rationalization, “I had a boyfriend/girlfriend in high school and I turned out okay,” I often wonder what it means out to turn out “okay.” Does it mean they managed to repent and thus remain active in the church? Does “turn out okay” simply mean they survived the gauntlet of adolescence?
Do we want our children to merely “turn out okay” or do we want them to experience a fullness of joy? Our Father’s plan is for us to experience joy beyond measure.
Could those of us who turned out “okay,” even when we failed to follow the prophets, have enjoyed greater blessings had we followed the prophets unerringly? Could we have avoided a measure of heartache? Could we have spared another considerable heartache? Could our marriages have been less contentious at times? Could we be happier in our current relationships?
Do we want to teach our children to be content with “okay?” Why not teach our children that they can have a fulness of joy? Failure and mistakes are surely part of life, but we don’t want our youth to aspire to failure.
We want to set a standard of excellence.
I’m reminded of the saying, “It’s better to shoot for the stars and land on the moon, than shoot for the moon and land in the manure pile.” We don’t want to teach our youth to aspire for the manure pile. The standard is excellence, and if they fall short of the standard, that’s certainly understandable/forgivable and we’ll be full of compassion, but that doesn’t mean we give up and lower the standard.
JeaNette Goates Smith is the author of the newly released, Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance. Her website for adults is www.unsteadydating.com and her website for youth is www.unsteadydating.wordpress.com